These women exposed James Toback’s unwanted advances in 1989. He kept working for 28 years. | Spanlish

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

These women exposed James Toback’s unwanted advances in 1989. He kept working for 28 years.

It’s taken the “Weinstein effect” for decades of alleged sexual harassment to catch up to the director.

"If you print this piece, I promise it will be the single thing you regret most in your life."

That was what director James Toback told the satirical magazine Spy when it ran an article detailing his alleged history of harassing women in 1989. Written under the pen name Vincenza Demetz, the piece collected 13 stories of women who said that Toback attempted to pick them up, in all sorts of locations — typically by flashing his Directors Guild card and promising he could get them a part in a movie.

Now, following the allegations of rape and harassment perpetrated Harvey Weinstein, the LA Times has published the accounts of 38 women alleging years of sexual harassment from Toback, ranging from the pickup attempts described in Spy magazine to licking his co-workers or masturbating in front of them without their consent. The number of women who have come forward with stories of sexual misconduct by the director is by now north of 300.

But “Vincenza Demetz” had the story 28 years ago. Why didn’t Toback face any consequences back then?

To find out more, I spoke to the two women who broke the Toback story under the Demetz pen name. Bonnie Bertram and Julie V. Iovine were young writers in New York City at the time — Bertram was a junior editor at the movie magazine Premiere, and Iovine was a freelance writer. They met through professional circles and discovered they had both been targets of Toback’s behavior.

That’s when they decided to write the article, titled “The Pickup Artist's Guide to Picking Up Women: A Case-by-Case Look at Movie Director James Toback's Street Technique.” “There was no mechanism at the time for really dealing with male harassment,” Iovine says. “It was very common. I think we did want to get the word out a little broader that there was this guy who women shouldn’t take seriously when he tells you he's going to make you a movie star.”

For Bertram and Iovine (both of whom still work in journalism — Bertram at Retro Report, a nonprofit journalism organization, and Iovine as a freelance journalist), the decision to take the story to a satirical magazine was also reflective of the times. “We of course thought about [taking it to] Time and Newsweek,” said Iovine. “But, you know, we didn't think they would take it seriously.”

My conversation with Bertram and Iovine follows, edited for length and clarity.

Karen Turner

Tell me about the initial spark that led you to write this bizarre story.

Bonnie Bertram

We came at it sort of from different places. For me, working at that movie magazine, a friend of mine called and said that Toback had tried to pick up her roommate. And I didn't know who Toback was and I asked around the office, and the more senior editors were like, "Oh, my god, the guy's a total lech, like, don't call him back." So I called my friend back and said, "Tell your roommate do not get involved with him." A week later, he just coincidentally happened to try to pick me up at the Fairway vegetable market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Julie V. Iovine

I was coming out of a little coffee shop, also on the Upper West Side, which I think is one of the places where he hits on people. And he just came up to me and said, "I'm a movie director, James Toback. Here's my guild card. I would love to talk to you about casting. And here's my phone number." I called an editor that I was working with at Elle magazine to tell her. Almost instantaneously, she was able to give me the name of half a dozen people or so that she had heard he had hit on.

Karen Turner

So what made you decide to take it to Spy?

Julie V. Iovine

We of course thought about Time and Newsweek. But, you know, we didn't think they would take it seriously [as a news story]. And even we were kind of hesitant to think of it as anything other than kind of yucky. So in thinking about it, we decided that Spy might be the best place to take it, to treat it in a satirical fashion. Spy was very much a very happening magazine at the moment. It was the leading satire magazine.

Bonnie Bertram

It's hard to draw any comparisons to what Spy in New York City was like in the '80s, because it was the most in-the-know, in-your-face, smart, funny, fearless magazine. And I think if Julie and I were honest, we would say that part of the reason we did it was because we wanted an invitation to the parties they threw.

But we never thought about it like, "This guy is a sexual predator and we have to nail him." It was a whole different era, and so we didn't approach it with the same kind of seriousness towards predatory behavior. The way it’s looked upon today is more appropriate, you know?

Karen Turner

Yeah, I'm really curious about that, because the article really does have a jokey tone.

Julie V. Iovine

There was no mechanism at the time for really dealing with male harassment. It was very common. It was not something that would have jumped out as utterly inappropriate. Because it was so ubiquitous. It was just something that women dealt with all time. You know, it didn't raise eyebrows.

Bonnie Bertram

It was just such a different era. You know, men would go to strip clubs and put it on their expense accounts. We wore gigantic shoulder pads going into the office. And looking back on it, Julie and I have some remorse that we didn't even understand how to treat it more seriously. So we didn't have a framework for it, because you dealt with this kind of stuff all the time.

But I think we did want to get the word out a little broader that there was this guy who women shouldn’t take seriously when he tells you he's going to make you a movie star, because he's full of BS.

Karen Turner

So there was little bit of a protective element to it?

Julie V. Iovine

I think that was our intent and our interest to some degree. Although for Spy, it was really a satirical piece. You can see that in the title they put on the piece [“The Pickup Artist's Guide to Picking Up Women: A Case-by-Case Look at Movie Director James Toback's Street Technique”] — it was a little bit of a wink-wink-nod.

Karen Turner

So what was the response to the article?

Julie V. Iovine

It was a big deal. We had a moment. Then Toback went berserk and threatened the magazine. They had to get a security guard for a week or two, and I think that's the first time in their history that they had to do that.

Bonnie Bertram

I believe we heard that David Letterman might have wanted us on. Then I had a friend who called and told me, "I think Toback’s got mob connections.”

Karen Turner

Wow.

Bonnie Bertram

It sounds crazy and wacky, but back in New York in the '80s, these were the kinds of weird things that you would hear. And we sort of laughed it off, but then an actor friend of mine told me, "That guy's scary! He's really dangerous!" So there was a bit of a sense of, could this be threatening?

Julie V. Iovine

We knew going in that he was a little crazed. That was one of the reasons why we gave everyone the option not to use a real name, and we used a pseudonym ourselves. And so we didn't literally feel like we were in danger. [The pen name they used, Vincenza Demetz, came from Iovine’s middle name and married name, which she rarely used.]

Karen Turner

Did you keep up with his story over the years?

Julie V. Iovine

We were both a little disappointed that he bounced back completely from any shaming the article might have brought along. He continued to do movies, he worked with Robert Downey Jr. [Black and White and Two Girls and a Guy] — he had no problem getting stars and female actresses to work with him.

Some 10 years later, when I was a reporter at the New York Times home section, I interviewed him myself for a set of one of his movies. He was perfectly professional in that encounter.

Bonnie Bertram

I ran into him in a small setting, and I was totally unprepared. It was just a weird coincidence. I was with this group of women I didn't know very well. When they said he was coming over, I said, excuse me, I'm going to go disappear in the bathroom for about 25 minutes. But honestly, he had no idea who I was.

Julie V. Iovine

We all thought of him as just a gross lech in a way that we didn't take him more seriously. But he seems to have upped his behavior to even more disgusting stuff, which is regrettable.

Karen Turner

So how do you feel now, with the reaction to the allegations against Weinstein as well as Toback?

Julie V. Iovine

I think the turning point has happened. It's been really heartening. We were just two women, and we were kind of loners collecting some people’s experiences. But there was no hope that it was going to amount to much. And now things are really piling on. I think there's no going back now.

Karen Turner

What do you think is different now?

Bonnie Bertram

I think Julie and I felt, probably like any other woman Toback had come on to and had made it seem like he was going to somehow help them, that they'd been duped. I think there might have been a sense of, I want to get revenge on this guy. But we weren’t like, let's call the Actors Guild, or the Directors Guild, and try to strip him of his credentials.

Julie V. Iovine

It's got to be generational, I think. And maybe those dinosaurs are really fading out.

Bonnie Bertram

I want to meet that Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn [who wrote a Facebook post that said he’d been warning people about Toback], because that guy seems super cool. I hope guys like that become heroic, because I think that's what it takes for this sort of behavior to stop. And the women and men who make excuses for Toback should really realize that's not really a great way to deal with it.

Karen Turner

If you were writing this article today, would you do anything differently?

Julie V. Iovine

There's no way we would be writing the story like that for Spy if it was happening today. It obviously would be more along the lines of the stories that are coming out about both Toback and Weinstein and all these other cruel people.

Bonnie Bertram

Yeah. And we'd put our names on it for sure. And I think other women would too. Maybe we’d go to a columnist who cares about women's issues. There are people out there who are trying to move the needle. But there was certainly not a lot of that in 1989.

I want to reiterate that it would be gratifying to see this moment turn into something that would actually have some impact on him. I went back and looked at an interview with him in 1991 in Movieline where he claimed that [the women he harassed] were "nonexistent" people in the Spy article. They let him wax on and on about his great, glorious filmmaking career and his philosophies on filmmaking. I'm like, "Can't anybody call bullshit on this?”

Everybody knew about Toback. There's probably 15 more Tobacks waiting in the wings who are protected.

Here’s Bonnie Bertram’s documentary on sexual harassment for Retro Report:



Source: These women exposed James Toback’s unwanted advances in 1989. He kept working for 28 years.

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